There are many unknowns revolving around the Chicago Bulls this offseason, one in which could arguably prove to be the most significant in the organization's recent memory. With the NBA Draft little less than a month away, free agency to follow, there is an enormous amount of pressure on the direction that John Paxson and Gar Forman choose to go. Which direction that ends up being, part of it could very well fall on the belief in upcoming second year center, Cristiano Felicio.
Coming in as an undrafted rookie, Felicio was largely unknown by Bulls fans and the league alike. To many, the Felicio signing was merely one to fill out the remaining roster spot, nothing more. Throughout the majority of the season, Felicio was found either spending time in the D-League or warming up the end of the bench. It wasn't until a rash of injuries during the last month of season, that we would see the Brazilian big man in action. In that last month, even with a fairly small sample size, the potential and skill-set of Felicio was palpable.
Which now, as Pau Gasol is likely gone, with Joakim Noah to follow, does GarPax have enough faith in Felicio (who's set to be 24 in November) that he can help fill the void(s) left behind? This will inevitably be the difference if whether or not management decides to overspend on a frontcourt player such as Ian Mahinmi or Bismack Biyombo, or target other positional needs at small forward and backup point guard.
Boasting a 6'10, 275 pound frame, we can't necessarily go by statistics to fully evaluate Felicio due to the small sample size in his regular appearances (played in only 30 games total). Though in the final 17 games of the season, Felicio appeared in 14, with a team best 10.2 net rating (of those who appeared in at least 10 of those games), team best 55.4 REB%, and tied for second-best TS% at 56.6. Again, small sample size so we can't take into account too much, if anything with these statistics.
In the meantime, what we can do is try and evaluate via film.
Everything about today's NBA is predicated on the pick-and-roll. From a big man perspective, can you set the on-ball screen and short roll, long roll? Are you able to pick-and-pop, able to hit that 15+ foot jumper, stretching the defense and creating space for the ball-handler? Can you set the screen and roll hard to the rim, catching the pocket pass, or alley-oop and finishing through traffic?
What Felicio showed in his limited time was a little bit of everything, which bodes well for him moving forward.
With only 72 total field goal attempts on the season, statistics in relation to Felicio's shooting are null. But based on the fact that Felicio does have the comfortability, and confidence in his shot to take the ones he does in the clips presented above without hesitation, can be a small testament to his shooting ability. In relation to this, the most important part is can he be relied on to take and make that shot on a more consistent basis? Is he able to step back another three or four feet beyond the arch? If he proves able, it will pay dividends for him.
Felicio's coming out party last season, so to speak, was against that one team representing the East in the Finals. During said game, Felicio went a perfect 7-7 from the field for 16 points to go along with five rebounds and two blocks. Within the game, Felicio provided everyone a glimpse of his capabilities offensively; finishing at the rim, through traffic and out of the PnR, not to mention his athleticism.
At 6'10, 275 Felicio is certainly no small man. Needless to say, there aren't going to be a lot of people willing to jump in the path of Felicio.
Jimmy Butler is forced away from the Felicio screen above, however the big man does not abandon the ball-handler as he patiently awaits the pocket pass. Without taking a dribble, Felicio takes off from just inside the lane line, avoiding Kevin Love who is attempting to take a charge(?).
For someone of Felicio's size, this was a very athletic, and nimble play to be able to glide between Love and Tristan Thompson for the finish.
There is a lot of great things that Felicio does during this PnR sequence late in his breakout party. After setting the initial screen for Butler, he comes back to re-screen (albeit a tad slow) for Butler after his drive is cut-off by Love. Once that second screen is set, Felicio rolls towards the rim and receives yet another pocket pass.
Upon receiving the pass from Butler, Felicio is greeted by LeBron James, who comes over from the help-side. Instead of panicking in a situation as such (most young players do), Felicio gathers himself, taking a rhythm dribble while using his big frame to bump James out of the way as to free himself up for the easy bucket.
Yes, this just a small sample size of Felicio, but as one can see there is potential, which makes one wonder how good he could be with regular minutes.
On the opposite end of the floor, it tends to be the most difficult acclimation for young players, specifically post players. Communicating with your teammates, understanding schemes, rotations, the last line of defense at the rim. Though improvement is needed, Felicio's defense has shown some promise.
Ok, yes I know this is against the Sixers, but that aside, Felicio does a couples things really well in this clip. He's able to contain not only the first, but the second PnR from the Sixers. After the ball is swung from the second PnR to the wing, Felicio rotates overs into help-side, just as he should. From there, he contests Robert Covington's layup attempt with perfect verticality, without fouling.
During his peak game against Cleveland, Felicio showcased his agility and recovering ability against arguably one of the more dynamic point guards in the league.
In the first clip from the Cleveland game, as Irving comes off the dribble handoff, Felicio effectively cuts off his drive to the basket, helping Justin Holiday who was caught on the screen. Once cutting Irving's path off, Felicio then uses his big body to push him out of the lane and away from the basket, inevitably forcing up a tough shot.
Irving comes at Felicio a second time in the following clip as Cristiano stays put on the play helping Holiday once again as he fights through multiple screens. Coming off the last screen Irving gives Felicio a slight hesitation as if he's going to pull-up for three, which understandably freezes him for a brief moment. It's during that split-second where Felicio freezes that provides Irving just enough time to slip past him to the basket. Felicio doesn't give up on the play, however, and instead saving it as he recovers to block Irving's layup off the backboard.
Is Cristiano Felicio the answer should Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol leave in free agency this summer? The potential is there, but without a larger sample size it's hard to know for certain. But this is the question that John Paxson and Gar Forman must answer before draft night and free agency. Do they have enough trust in Felicio moving forward, to concentrate on other team needs such as point guard and small forward? It's one of many, pivotal decision the front office must make in their decision on which direction they choose to go with this team for the foreseeable future.